Product specific languages across cultures?

A while ago there was an interesting thing said on the giant beastcast in reference to visual ques in gaming. The example that was given is that if you are playing an adventure game like a Zelda and you see a section of a wall that is a different shade and has cracks in it, you could blow it up with a bomb and that there would be some secret or something behind it. The point was made that we have this knowledge because we have years of tropes accumulated in our heads which forms a sort of “gaming language” and a person who doesn’t have that history with games wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the fact that you can blow up cracked walls because they can’t “read video game.”

This thought sort of combined with my experience of picking up a new cell phone (I had an htc switched to samsung) and fiddling with it for a while until I had figured out the quirks of it’s user interface. It struck me that my ability to figure out a new phone in 15 minutes was another one of those non-traditional languages that was discussed on the beastcast, and that my ability to figure out phones, while my parents need to have each new product explained to them, is because I can “read cell phone” and they can’t.

My question is this, for those of you who have experienced similar technologies, be it phones or laptops or whatever, in different larger culture contexts, does the underlying “product language” stay the same or do they differ, is it a mix? Does an Indian phone work the same as a Chinese phone work the same as an American phone?

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As someone of Chinese ethnicity but can’t read Chinese worth a damn, I can tell you that I was able to navigate over to the language settings and switch the UI over to English on a loaner phone when I was in HK despite not being able to read a word of the UI prior to toggling the setting, so I think there is a fair degree of knowledge that carries over.


Thanks for your answer, this sort of thing is really fascinating. I imagine it is the product of the global reach of tech manufacturers. Cheers.

I suspect on the one hand, there is a degree of universality to icons and such like gears for settings, and a globe for language/international settings, but also: if there’s one thing the designers are going to want you to be able to figure out how to do without knowing the language, it’s obviously going to be how to switch the language to one you do know.

Nevertheless, I did manage to figure it out despite it stumping an older relative who could read Chinese (my initial impulse of course was to ask for help), so I guess digital literacy trumps language literacy in this case.

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